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Members of Congress make civil rights pilgrimage in Alabama

16th Street Baptist Church bombing
Investigators and spectators outside 16th St. Church after bombing

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Dozens of members of Congress are making a weekend-long civil rights pilgrimage through Alabama, visiting spots that were instrumental in the fight for equality decades ago.

The mostly Democratic group made its first stop Friday at Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church, where four black girls died in a Ku Klux Klan bombing in 1963.

Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who was once beaten by Alabama troopers while trying to march for voting rights, walked slowly up the church's stone steps.

Delegation members applauded a handful of civil rights veterans as they stood in the sanctuary and then watched a play depicting the lives of the bombing victims. Lewis posed for a photo with the young cast members.

"Thank you. You made me cry. You made me laugh," Lewis told them.

Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney who prosecuted two of the three KKK members convicted in the church bombing years later, discussed those cases — and the changes in Alabama since — after the performance.

"You can never close those chapters. We have to understand and learn in today's world," Jones said. The internet has contributed to a new rise in hate groups, he said.

The group will also visit a new memorial to thousands of racial lynching victims in Montgomery, where then-Gov. George C. Wallace once vowed "segregation forever," and participate in weekend civil rights commemorations in Selma.

The annual civil rights trip is sponsored by the Faith and Politics Institute.

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